John McCutcheon plays Sunday in Grass Valley |

John McCutcheon plays Sunday in Grass Valley

John McCutcheon has produced 38 albums in 45 years.
Photo by John Taber |


WHO: Strings Concerts presents

WHAT: John McCutcheon - Annual KVMR Fundraiser

WHEN: Sunday, Jan. 8, 7:30 p.m.

WHERE: The Center for the Arts

314 W Main St., Grass Valley

TICKETS: $20 KVMR or Center members

$23 non-member

$35 preferred seating

Tickets are available at:

BriarPatch Co-op – 530-272-5333

Tickets online at



The man who has produced a total 38 albums in 45 years is coming to Grass Valley this weekend.

Very few are as prolific an artist as John McCutcheon, a folk singer-songwriter and master of the hammered dulcimer.

McCutcheon’s newest work, “Trolling for Dreams,” debuts in early February. But those who attend the annual KVMR Community Radio fundraiser 7:30 p.m. Sunday at The Center for the Arts will hear nearly all of the songs on the new album live — as well as plenty of classics and fan-favorites from his massive catalogue.

Born in Wisconsin, McCutcheon has been a regular visitor to Nevada County since befriending Utah Phillips in the 1970s. He began using his bond with Phillips as an excuse to come and visit the area, McCutcheon says, and still makes yearly trips when he can.

“I have been coming at the behest of KVMR for almost 30 years,” said McCutcheon. “We originally played up at the Miners Foundry in Nevada City, and then we moved down to the Veteran’s Hall in Grass Valley, and now I’ve been coming over to the Center for the Arts the last few years. So, it’s almost like a second home to me at this point.”

This year’s sojourn to the foothills will coincide with a larger tour for McCutcheon, who says he’s uniquely excited for the release of “Trolling for Dreams.”

“This is a real special combination of songs for me, and I’m excited about getting out there and playing them,” he said. “These are songs that people haven’t heard. It’s an unusual thing for me; I’m going old school. The delivery system for music has changed so much over the 45 years I’ve been doing this, that it’s funny to be going out and debuting new songs that people can buy for the very first time during intermission and after the show.”

The songs on the album feature hallmarks of McCutcheon’s work as well as folk music in general, including vivid storytelling and the discussion of topical issues. As for the latter, McCutcheon has been given plenty of material this past year. So striking and polarizing has 2016 been, McCutcheon says, that he recently rewrote one of the songs on the new album, called “The Bible,” to include the divisiveness he has seen on social media platforms like Twitter.

“There’s this medium that people have access to where they can say all kinds of awful stuff,” he said. “I mean, look at the comment section on Facebook. It’s the sordid underbelly of the internet. In many ways, this thing that was looked on as a blessing has become a curse.”

“I’ve written about stuff like this as the years have gone on,” he added. “It was clear to me that a lot of the stuff we all grew up, the things we were taught in school and church and so on, was kind of out the window (during the 2016 election). I mean, nobody was talking about the big ideas. This particular election, it was all about personalities“

McCutecheon is quick to point out that he’s not interested in preaching about his own political opinions, however. Instead, he says, he’s “interested in seeing what we can do when we work together.”

“I’ve lived in the south for 45 years now, and I play in the south more than any folk singer I know, and you have people that come to my concerts who come because they like the hammered dulcimer,” McCutcheon said. “Or because their kids grew up with my songs. Or because I’m one of the few singer-songwriters out there that is still playing fiddle and banjo. So I know that there are people who come to my shows and who voted for Trump. It’s not my interest to have people retreat to their respective corners, because that’s part of the reason we are where we are. So, when I’ve been writing topical stuff these days, I’m usually trying to figure an angle that makes people think in new ways instead of just having some guy with a guitar or banjo up there, flaunting their ideas. I just have the microphone, I don’t have the answers.”

In many ways, there are similarities between the political division of today and the changes facing the country during the 1960s, McCutcheon’s youth. Growing up during the Civil Rights movement and the Vietnam protests that dominated news headlines of the time, McCutcheon credits folk music for engaging him and helping him to understand the world around him.

“I was 11 years old when I first discovered folk music, and it was during a time when I was trying to figure out the world around me,” he said. “Music played a big part in that and it was everything from Beethoven to The Beatles to Pete Seeger, and lots of other people. Folk music offered a way for me to look at all the stuff that had happened before, and have something that was rooted and had a story to tell. One of the unique things about folk music is that it taps into that very human need…to hear stories.”

The performance on January 8th will allow McCutcheon to continue doing what he loves, playing and performing material he has crafted for over four decades. It’s also not the only show he’ll be doing in Nevada County during the month of January as he’s also planning on doing a baseball-themed show with Chuck Brodsky on January 18th at the Nevada Theatre, a show he says will be “radically different” than the one seen at the fundraiser. For McCutcheon, regardless of what he’s performing, he counts himself grateful to be able to continue doing so.

“I thought I was going to be a professional baseball player, and that was after I thought I was going to be a firemen or a priest or something,” he said. “I loved the music and I wanted to play it, but did I think 38 albums and 45 years later that I was going to be doing this? No, I had no idea at all. It’s a triumph of imagination, in some ways.”

Spencer Kellar is a freelance writer; he can be reached at

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